Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Popular" Palate

Jeff at Good Grape recently posted an interesting article on Tim Hanni and the Budometer as covered in Wines and Vines. I love Jeff’s blog by the way. I admire his ability to effortlessly weave current topics from the Wine Media into a cohesive stream of consciousness dialogue; at once off-the-cuff and keenly insightful; with a knack for expressing a viewpoint without use of soapbox or dogmatism.


Jeff points out that categorizing an individual’s palate might meet with some resentment:

I think most wine lovers, righteously, would bristle in self-defense—such is our wanton ways, not wanting to define our palates (or ourselves) while still reserving the right to pass empirical quality markers on wine.

He also astutely alludes to another human tendency which is that of presuming to define someone else’s tastes while maintaining our own anti-classification. I must admit my own culpability in this matter: I have made certain differentiations amongst coworkers at the office potluck based on who brought whoopee pies versus the butternut squash soup. And, why shouldn’t we? After all, we all have our own preferences and it’s only natural to share affinity with people of similar tastes. On the other hand, it can be all too easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

My lambasted ripe fruit
Why should it be that the fruit of a vine growing in a region enjoying a long ripening season should be reviled? Does it stem from our instinct to root for the underdog as Miles so influentially did in Sideways when he pontificated (by rote, I think) on the virtues of Pinot Noir?

Is it possible that one person could have the breadth of sensibilities to find virtue in both ripe fruit-forward New World style wine, as well as a trim and sophisticated Old World wine?

Taste and Wine
What makes great wine? Obviously, there is the basic potential in the juice derived from growing conditions, wine-making technique, etc. There is also the sensory aspect of it; the flavors and aromas; also textures. Then one can delve deeper into those elements to look at the basic chemical structure and the order and gradation of a limited set of flavonoids that are present in wine. Depending on the amplification, and order within the series of each flavor component, you get this flavor profile or that flavor profile. So, is that it? A series of flavors brought about by a particular soil/climate profile, and wine-making technique?

Divine Wine
Dr. Vino recently featured an article by Mike Steinberger The Greatest Wine on the Planet: An evocative piece on the ‘47 Cheval Blanc. Oddly enough, this legendary wine came about from a technically “defective wine from an aberrant year.” Also fascinating, is the fact that this vintage was a vast departure from the usual Bordeaux style as Michael notes in his article:

David Peppercorn, a British Master of Wine and Bordeaux specialist, first tasted the '47 Cheval in 1952 and says it was sublime even then. "It was delicious as a young wine," he told me, "with a wonderful sort of opulent texture that was very unusual for a Bordeaux in that day." The voluptuousness was a function of the 14.4 percent alcohol content, which at the time was off the charts for a Bordeaux.

A taste of the ’47 Cheval Blanc eludes Mr. Steinberger at first but, by the end of his documented adventure, he finally samples the lauded elixir and finds to his surprise that despite his heightened expectations, this wine is beyond comparison with any earthly wine in his experience.

Back to the question of what makes good or great wine: Perhaps wine is more than just a flavor/aroma profile, a technique, and a geographical origin. It could possibly be described as a sensory experience that goes beyond what we find on the palate. And to use a term bandied about by our laughable Sideways hero, a great wine is transcendent.